We have spent a lot of time this year discussing the digital divide between rich and poor nations as well as rural and urban communities. While both of these issues are important to address in development work there exists another digital divide between men and women which occurs in both developed and developing nations. In 2000 the United Nations published this report focusing on empowering women through ICT use. The report offers several suggestions on how ICTs can be used to help empower women but also expressed concerns that unless special care is taken to include women in national ICT infrastructure and educations projects ICTs could develop into another area in which women are excluded. The report emphasizes the fact that technologies are “socially constructed” and will always affect men and women in different ways. While both men and women use ICTs for the same reason, information, connectivity, etc, women are less likely to own radios, mobile phones, and computers. This can exacerbate existing divides in society. A United Nations report found that “an evaluation of telecenters funded under the Acacia programme in Africa indicated that women consistently make up less than one-third of telecentre users.” The report suggested women-only training center or seminars be established to make women feel more comfortable but also warned that even when these resources are available women’s access to ICTs was not equal to men’s.
The same report found that when women are trained in ICT use, especially in the business sector, they reported gaining more respect in their local communities and felt more prepared to enter the job market. ICT use and women’s empowerment are linked. When women are granted access to ICTs it aids their empowerment in other areas but when women are denied access to ICTs it can intensify existing divides between men and women. As countries develop their ICT policies they must take precautions to ensure that women are not excluded from access to ICTs.